How to Learn a Language: INPUT (Why most methods don’t work)


Language. It’s a pretty cool thing, quite useful. I can still remember back when I was a toddler,
about 2 years old learning my first language, English. My Mom taught me how the order in English
is subject verb object, and helped me make flashcards so I could memorize vocabulary
and helped me for hours and hours to get the different verb tenses right. Fast forward several years and In college
I came over to Japan on a foreign exchange program where I would learn another language. About two years after arriving in the country,
I took and passed the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. To be fair, I did live in the country, but
the concepts I’ll discuss in this video will be effective even if you don’t have
access to native speakers. Lately there are all kinds of great resources
and techniques on language learning. In particular, spaced-repetition system-based
virtual flashcard programs like Anki are popular and very useful, but… is that really the
most efficient way to sink language into our brains so it can be used on the fly? After all, how many parents have to give their
child a deck of flashcards for review to help their kids reach fluency in their mother tongue? Of course I was kidding earlier and I learned
English through magic like every other baby. In this video I’d like to discuss four not
too often discussed points that I think are important when it comes to language learning. Acquiring language efficiently through context
Two is Maximizing input Three is Practicing your listening and pronunciation
at the same time And four is Making sure the experience of
learning is positive First allow me to take a moment to demonstrate
something, so just listen for now. If you already speak Japanese, it might be
harder to get my point, but hopefully you’ll still see what I mean. Timu o shoukai shiyou. Timu wa neko janakute kaeru janakute hito
da. Hito no karada ha ironna bubun ga aru. Tatoeba atama, mune, ude, ashi ga aru. Ok, so Just listening to me, how much Japanese
did you learn from this? Maybe 0%. What if I repeated it or spoke slower, would
you learn more Japanese? Most likely not. Let’s try it one more time, but pay attention
to the screen. Timu o shoukai shiyou. Timu wa neko janakute kaeru janakute hito
da. Hito no karada ha ironna bubun ga aru. Tatoeba atama, mune, ude, ashi ga aru. Mushi ja nai kara me wa mutsu toka janakute
futatsu ga aru. Ude mo futatsu, Ashi mo futatsu, Mimi mo futatsu
ga aru. How about now, maybe 10%, 20% or even just
one word? This is the simple difference between acquiring
language and not. What I’m trying to demonstrate is the concept
of comprehensible input, as did second language acquisition scholar Stephen Krashen did in
this lecture of his. “das ist meine Hand. fristenzidast hand(??)” “In my opinion, we all acquire language the
same way. We acquire language in one way and one way
only, when we understand messages, or when we understand what we read. We call this comprehensible input. We’ve tried everything else, we’ve tried grammar
teaching, drills and exercises, computers, but the only thing that seems to count is
getting messages you understand, comprehensible input. So anything that helps make input comprehensible
– pictures, knowledge of the world, realia, helps language acquisition.” In the 1970s and 80s Krashen put forward a
group of hypotheses about language learning. The first claim of his we’ll look at is
that there is acquisition and learning and Krashen says improvement in language ability
is only dependent on acquisition and not learning. The difference between acquisition and learning
is tricky but it’s kind of like the difference between getting a joke and having someone
explain the precise reasons why that joke should be funny. For example, a horse walks into a bar and
the bartender says… “Hey, why the long face?” Or a whale walks into a bar and the whale
says “Woo…oooo…woooo”. If you thought this was funny, you didn’t
have to consciously work out why it was funny. the processing was done on a subconscious
level. In Krashen’s book Principles and Practice
in Second Language acquisition, he says “Acquisition of language is a natural, intuitive, and subconscious
process of which individuals need not be aware.” Similarly, you can learn words by having someone
tell you “The Japanese word for Persimmon is kaki.” On the other hand, what’s necessary for
acquisition is sufficient comprehensible input. Something like this: Ringo o taberu. So, even though you might not know any of
the words I just said, you could comprehend the pictures I supplied, and based on that
context, you could acquire the meaning of Ringo and Taberu. When I provide you with another example, Biiru
o nomu, you may have deduced something about Japanese grammar as well. That’s right, the verb comes at the end. The point is, you have this massive pattern
recognition device jammed into your head and when you understand the meaning of the message,
your brain will naturally pick out vocabulary and deconstruct grammar patterns based on
the context – and this is not something you actively and consciously perform. Okaikei senroppyaku nanajyuu hachien ni narimasu. Kane aru Kara!
Kane Nee yo… This leads me to one of the most helpful things
– simply watching television series without English subtitles with focused attention even
though I couldn’t understand most of it. “And today, I wanna talk about dictionaries. You can look up the word ‘get’ in the dictionary
and you get 8 or 9 different definitions… and you can read that, close the dictionary
and you won’t remember much of what was there. Before I went to Vietnam, I got this phrasebook
and dictionary. I came away able to use one word. Kaman, which means thank you. Nothing else stuck, zero. This was essentially useless.” A bit later on, I tried my hand at plenty
of books but refrained from looking up every word. This is a really simple but important concept,
how many new words, phrases and grammar structures can you feed your brain when you’re looking
up every word as you read a book? You’d take about half an hour to get through
one page. For the same amount of time, a television
show can blast you with far more words, phrases and grammar. A book can too if you’re not so trigger
happy with the dictionary. And, it might not feel like it, but these
bits of cloudy information can stick in your head at the subconscious level just waiting
for the right context to reveal their meaning. Engineering Professor Barbara Oakley explains
here that we have two modes of thinking – the focused mode and the diffuse mode. The focused mode is where you’re racking
your brain trying to use your focused awareness to figure something out, whether it be a math
problem or what’s going on in a TV show in a foreign language. The diffuse mode works in the background where
you’re relaxed and not straining on one thing, it can see the big picture and make
connections. This is thought to be why people so often
get ideas in the shower – you’re relaxed, probably not focused on anything in particular,
so your subconscious starts turning its pattern recognition gears to give you insights your
conscious mind couldn’t see. You might not have any luck picking up many
words or phrases while watching or reading something, but when you go off and do something
else, your brain relaxes into the much more flexible diffuse mode and uses its powers
of pattern recognition to piece out some meaning from the heaps of language information you
were just exposed to. Now I’m not saying that the fastest way
to become fluent in a language is to never open a dictionary, but you’ll want to invest
a majority of your time on inputting a bunch of content into your head from media, books
or just paying attention to people around you. Earlier we saw that according to Krashen,
acquisition, but not learning can trigger improvement in a language. But, it seems deliberate “learning” can
trigger language “acquisition” – for example let’s say you had watched this before: “omae,
ore no keeki kuttaro.” “iya”
and you knew that “ore no keeki” just means “my cake,” but for the life of you couldn’t
figure out what kuttaro means. You were guessing it means steal. Then you learn from a textbook or dictionary
that kuu is a very casual way to say eat! Then it all clicks, you realize kutta would
be the past tense of this verb and you figure kuttaro must be the same as kutta darou. Now you’ve acquired a new word and a new
colloquialism and put all the pieces together to fully understand what this guy was saying. “Omae, ore no keeki kuttaro.” “iya.” This is the “Aha!” moment indicative of
new language acquisition – similar to a joke, it just happens at the subconscious level. Another key to this is watching television
without English subtitles. A study from Barcelona looking at Spanish
speakers trying to learn English found that the worst way to learn was by putting Spanish
subtitles on an English movie. This resulted in 0% improvement in their English
ability. Watching with no subtitles provided a 7% improvement,
but watching the show in English, with English subtitles provided a 17% improvement. Now You might be thinking how are you ever
going to learn anything if you do all this input without any any speaking practice? This is where another part of Krashen’s
theory comes in. “And this may come as a bit of a surprise
to some of you. Certainly came as a surprise to me. Talking is not practicing. It means if you want to improve your spanish,
it will not help you to speak Spanish outloud in the car as you drive to work in the morning. I used to think those things help, now I think
they don’t.” You don’t technically have to open your
mouth to acquire the language. This was demonstrated in 1962 when E. Lenneberg
described the case of a boy who could not speak due to congenital dysarthria. When Lenneberg tested the boy, he found that
the child was able to understand spoken English perfectly. With that said, …you should open your mouth
at some point. Pronunciation is of course very important. But pronunciation is… hard. Some noises in the language you’ll notice
you just can’t make because you never have before. “That’s not tool bro. That’s n… That’s not tool bro.” This brings me to a technique called Shadowing:
What you do is basically listen to some audio of a native speaker talking and you just mimic
their pronunciation and intonation. Not every word though – depending on your
level it could be two syllables at a time, three at a time or two words at a time and
so on. Shadowing is generally thought of as an advanced
technique you should use to master intonation and polish up your accent. But, even from Day 1 it can be a super efficient
way for improving your pronunciation and at the same time your ability to recognize phonemes
in natural language. That is to hear natural language. And being able to hear natural language is
important. Because when people speak naturally, there
are certain phrases where their speech gets run together. Like “What are you doing” becomes “W’t’ya’doin’” Watch how in this scene, Abe Hiroshi turns
tokoro ga kou yatte into “tocolocuerte” “tocolocuerte…” A 2015 study from Japan looking at two groups
of English learners found that indeed, shadowing made a statistically significant improvement
in phoneme perception for both groups. Look in the description for some tips on shadowing
so you can get more out of it without frustrating yourself into hating the language. So That’s it – Three things. Focus on learning from context, Load up on
the input and get plenty of content in the target language and you can use the same audio
source to practice listening to natural speech and pronunciation. I realize this leaves many questions regarding
language learning and that this there’s tons of useful techniques and approaches for
learning a language that I haven’t addressed here. So please leave a comment if you have any
questions and and check the description for more information .

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